Mount Gambier is a thriving city set in the unique and ancient landscape of volcanic craters, lakes, limestone and mysterious underground waterways.
Where is it?: South East; 450 km south east of Adelaide; 435 km north west of Melbourne
Situated between Adelaide and Melbourne, Mount Gambier has become a popular stopover for travellers on their way to and from The Great Ocean Road and the Grampians. But there is far more to Mount Gambier than an overnight stopover can do justice to. An extended stay is a must to fully appreciate the natural and beauty of the surrounding region that includes caves and picturesque sinkholes, coastline, rivers, lakes and wineries.
Mount Gambier's famous Blue Lake, Little Blue Lake, Leg of Mutton Lake (now dry), Valley Lake, Ewens Ponds and Piccininnie Ponds are just a few of the locations which provide a window into a giant underground water system that keeps the region green and so attractive. It is this system that created the many limestone caverns and underwater caverns under and around the town, like the magnificent Piccanninnie Pods, a system of underwater caverns beneath the city, and the spectacular Umpherston sinkhole.
The famous Blue Lake was formed out of a volcanic crater. The Blue Lake mysteriously turns from a winter grey colour to a brilliant azure blue in the month of November, lasting till April. This has been a mystery for many, many years ... until it was finally scientifically explained to be attributed to a special algae that grows in the lake. The lake is one of four similar lakes near the town of Mt. Gambier which supply the town with its water as well as attracting tourists to the productive farming communities in South Australia's south-east corner.
The lushness of the Mount Gambier area is not only due to its volcanic soil and annual rainfall. Its life blood, is the abundance of underground water which lies in the wedge shaped block of limestone beneath the earth's surface. Moving slowly southwards towards the ocean through the limestone and its arterial system of caves and crevices the water is plentiful and contributes to the beauty of the city's parks and gardens and to the rural sector.
Umpherston Sinkhole: Umpherston Sinkhole is to experience one of the most stunningly beautiful marriages of man and nature. It is no ordinary hole in the ground, but a natural wonder in its own right, forged from millennia of acidic groundwater eroding the porous Gambier Limestone. An Australian icon of the most bazaar type, the Sinkhole was established as a recreational garden for the people of Mount Gambier and visitors to the region to enjoy.
Once a cave, the Umpherston Sinkhole was created when the top of the chamber fell to the floor of the cave, creating the perfect environment for its enchanting "sunken garden". Originally beautified by James Umpherston around 1886, it is open at all times, from dusk each evening the area comes alive with possums as they venture into the floodlit gardens to feed.
Engelbrecht Cave: Renowned as one of the most fascinating cave sites in the Limestone Coast area, Engelbrecht Cave is a stunning nature spot where you will see the best of what the Mount Gambier region has to offer. Engelbrecht Cave offers an array of facilities such as guided tours, restrooms, picnic areas and viewing platforms. The area also offers an easy access for tour buses and coaches.
Previously, Engelbrecht Cave was not a tourist attraction, as the private owners used to treat the cave as a rubbish dump. In 1979, the Lions Club of Mount Gambier decided to start a new project to restore and maintain this cave whilst beautifying the cave to make it as a tourist attraction. After many months, the project was successfully completed and the projects owners handed the cave over to the local council. Inside Engelbrecht Cave, you will notice that there are viewing platforms as well as diving sites, as the cave is very popular amongst cave divers. For divers, the Cave Divers Association offers free and detailed maps, including information at the visitor’Äôs hut of Engelbrecht Cave.
Presently, Engelbrecht Cave is a picturesque cave often visited by tourists and cave divers from all across Australia and abroad. Apart from the numerous scenic spots at Engelbrecht Cave, you will find several underwater caverns and tunnels here. There is also a cafe on site selling food, drinks and a few souvenirs.
Lookouts: The Mount Gambier Crater Lakes area is serviced by a maze of roads and walking tracks, all of which lead to lookouts, providing spectacular views of the Blue Lake, the city of Mount Gambier, the surrounding forests and farmland and the Southern coastline. Potters Point Lookout and Blue Lake lookout offer the best views.
29 km south of Mt Gambier is the picturesque Cape Northumberland and the village of Port MacDonnell on the shores of Discovery Bay. The rugged coastal scenery and good fishing attract holidaymakers who like to get off the beaten track. On the way to Port MacDonnell you will pass Mt Schank, a perfectly shaped extinct volcano crater.
Wynns Coonawarra Winery, Penola
51 km north of Mt Gambier is the historic town of Penola and the Coonawarra Wine region. Synonymous with classy Cabernet Sauvignon wines, The Coonawarra owes its wine-making success to its Terra Rossa soil, a red-brown topsoil laid over a thin layer of calcrete (calcium carbonate) sitting on a white limestone base.